How do solar panels work?

small red brick house with solar panels on roof
Understanding 'how do solar panels work?' is a good starting point when considering whether to add the renewable energy source to your home (Image credit: Getty Images)

There could not be a better time to start asking 'how do solar panels work?' and 'how can they help me save money?'. 

Whether it’s a photovoltaic (PV) system of 3.5kWp maximum power output or a solar thermal system that produces 1,800kWh to 2,000kWh (depending on type – see below) per year for 25 years – both of these will provide you with power for a unit cost of a little over 6p/kWh. Compare those figures to what you are currently paying for gas and electricity and you will see why solar power is a good idea. 

Tim Pullen

Tim is an expert in sustainable building methods and energy efficiency in residential homes and writes on the subject for magazines and national newspapers. He is the author of The Sustainable Building Bible, Simply Sustainable Homes and Anaerobic Digestion - Making Biogas - Making Energy: The Earthscan Expert Guide.

His interest in renewable energy and sustainability was first inspired by visits to the Royal Festival Hall heat pump and the Edmonton heat-from-waste projects. In 1979

this initial burst of enthusiasm lead to him trying (and failing) to build a biogas digester to convert pig manure into fuel, at a Kent oast-house, his first conversion project.

Moving in 2002 to a small-holding in South Wales, providing as it did access to a wider range of natural resources, fanned his enthusiasm for sustainability. He went on to install renewable technology at the property, including biomass boiler and wind turbine.

He formally ran energy efficiency consultancy WeatherWorks and was a speaker and expert at the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows across the country.